ST. LOUIS -- Jerry Hairston Jr. has played nearly 14 seasons in the big leagues for eight different teams. He has won a World Series. He has often, as a utility player in recent years, been an afterthought. But his play on Thursday night -- and really this entire postseason -- has not gone unappreciated, and it is a big reason the Brewers have climbed back into this series.
Hairston's RBI double in the fourth inning of Game 4 of the National League Championship Series was key because it cut the Cardinals' lead to one run and got the Brewers on the scoreboard. Perhaps, though, even more important was the speed he used later in the inning, when he slid home on Yuniesky Betancourt's hard-hit single, just escaping Yadier Molina's tag at the plate. It tied the game and seemed to be a momentum shift as the Brewers went on to win 4-2 to even this best-of-seven series at two games apiece.
"I may not be 21 anymore," Hairston said, but "I was able to get in there before the tag."
Hairston instead is 35 years old, and he's found a way to reinvent himself to keep playing. In 2009, he came over to the Yankees as a key bat off their bench and helped them win a World Series. And this past July, the Brewers traded a minor leaguer for him to help shore up their defense. But what the move also did was give manager Ron Roenicke options, since Hairston can play every position except pitcher and catcher.
"He might even be able to catch," teammate LaTroy Hawkins said.
Hairston's flexibility is one of the reasons why he supplanted Casey McGehee at third base. Now, instead of being the utility guy off the bench, he's been starting every game this postseason and he's been one of the team's best hitters with a .375 average in nine games. In Game 2, Roenicke could have put McGehee in the starting lineup against Cardinals starter Edwin Jackson since he had hit three homers in one game off Jackson earlier this year. Instead, he opted for Hairston.
"We made some phone calls before we acquired him and I got some real good reports on both defense and offense," Roenicke said before Game 2. "And they said when the game's on the line, he'll give you a good at-bat and he'll get some big hits for you. And that's what we've seen."
Roenicke saw all that in the fourth inning. As Hairston rounded third he wasn't sure if he'd be waved home. But he kept on running. Making things complicated was that Betancourt's ball was hit hard.
"When you're on second base, you want like a 35-hopper to get through so you have plenty of time to get home," Hairston said.
But this wasn't, and Cardinals center fielder John Jay fired a good throw to Albert Pujols, who rifled the ball to Molina. The throw got there just before Hairston, but Hairston maneuvered around Molina and slid his hand under the tag. It was a veteran move from a veteran player.
"You know what, it was a great slide on his part," Hawkins said. "When you get older in the game, you lose some athleticism, but you gain so much of this," as Hawkins pointed to his head, "knowledge."
This year's Brewers lineup will be known mostly for Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder. But Hairston has kept pace. In the nine postseason games the Brewers have played, he's hit in eight of them, with four being multihit games. He has five doubles, four RBIs and six runs scored. Not bad for a 35-year-old guy.
"When you get in the playoffs, you don't know what the young players are going to do," Roenicke said before Game 2. "I know what Jerry Hairston is going to do. He's been in the playoffs a lot and he's not going to freak out. He's a very confident guy. He's a gamer."
Hawkins said what makes guys like Hairston so smart is their ability to reinvent themselves. Know your role, Hawkins said. After the game, Hairston was asked why he's been able to have so much sustained success, especially in the postseason.
"I just try to play the same game [like] I've always had," he said.
It's one of the reasons that this series is tied, and one of the reasons why Hairston has outlasted many of his peers.
Amy K. Nelson is a staff writer for ESPN.com. She can be reached at Amy.K.Nelson@espn.com.